Champ Bailey Knocks Off Defending Champs
DENVER (AP) _ It took a Champ to knock off the champs, a crazy 100-yard sprint by Denver’s star cornerback that helped the Broncos stop their long streak of playoff futility and bring the New England dynasty to an end.
Huffing, puffing, dashing down the sideline, Champ Bailey got caught and knocked down at the 1-yard line Saturday night. But his interception of Tom Brady did the damage, setting up the game-changing touchdown in Denver’s 27-13 victory over the defending Super Bowl champions.
``It was a great play by me,″ Bailey said. ``I made the play, but it was something we’d talked about the whole game.″
The first playoff game in the history of Invesco Field resulted in Denver’s first postseason win since the 1998 Super Bowl, John Elway’s last game.
Next week in the AFC championship game, the Broncos will play the winner of Sunday’s meeting between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh.
This game also marked the end of the Patriots’ shot at history.
Trying to become the first team to win three straight Super Bowls, the Patriots (11-7) simply didn’t have enough to overcome Denver’s steady play, a few bad breaks or their five turnovers. That was one fewer than they had during their entire, record-setting 10-game playoff winning streak that ended at the hands of the Broncos (14-3).
``Obviously, we’re disappointed,″ Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. ``We weren’t able to make the plays we needed to make to win, that’s why we didn’t win.″
And when it counted the most, the Patriots also couldn’t match Bailey.
The Patriots were moving the ball well in the third quarter. They cut a 10-3 deficit to four points on a field goal and had moved easily to the Denver 5 for what could have been the go-ahead score.
But on third down from the 5, Bailey stepped in front of Brady’s pass in the end zone for the pick. He sprinted down the sideline and when he felt Kevin Faulk swipe at him helplessly about 70 yards into the trek, he thought he had it cinched.
Champions don’t go down easily, though, and tight end Ben Watson wasn’t quitting. Watson took an angle, and with Bailey slowing and bringing the ball down to his hip, Watson got there, knocked Bailey down and sent the ball flying out of bounds at the 1.
Or maybe through the end zone.
With Bailey lying on his back, grimacing and gasping for air, Belichick challenged the call, saying the ball flew out of the end zone, which would have given them the ball back on a touchback.
``It definitely went out,″ Belichick said. ``It went out of his hands. They reviewed the play. Go ask them.″
It was the kind of call a championship team might have gotten. With no decisive TV angle, though, the Pats didn’t and on the next play, Mike Anderson scored his second 1-yard touchdown of the night and gave Denver a 17-6 lead.
``I never saw the guy coming, but I was going as hard as I could,″ Bailey said of the longest non-scoring interception return in NFL playoff history.
Always reliable Adam Vinatieri, the difference in all three of New England’s three-point Super Bowl victories, missed a 42-yard field goal wide right on the next possession. Shortly after, dependable Troy Brown fumbled a punt return to set up Jake Plummer’s lone touchdown pass of the night, a 4-yarder to Rod Smith for a 24-6 lead.
Plummer finished 15-for-26 for 197 yards with the touchdown and one interception, a nice play by Asante Samuel that led to New England’s first field goal.
And while the Denver quarterback won’t be mistaken for Elway, or even Brady _ who threw for 341 yards in defeat _ that was kind of the point: As has been proven all year, Plummer doesn’t have to do it all for the Broncos to win.
There’s the running game, held in check for most of this night, but good enough to punch the ball in under duress at the goal line. There’s the defense; Al Wilson made no fewer than four big plays in the first half to keep the game scoreless for the first 26 minutes.
Special teams were good, too.
Punter and kickoff specialist Todd Sauerbrun, of all people, got his helmet on the ball on a kickoff return late in the first half to force a turnover and a Denver field goal for a 10-3 lead.
After Bailey’s big play, and the non-reversal on Belichick’s challenge, the coach stood there in his gray sweatshirt, looking nonplussed, as he’s been throughout New England’s four seasons of excellence. Behind him, though, the Patriots were coming apart, at least a little.
TV cameras showed Patriots linebacker Willie McGinest shoving Larry Izzo away during an argument, while Mike Vrabel tried to calm McGinest down _ hardly the kind of calm and cool they showed as they made their run toward history.
Meanwhile, the Broncos put on the finishing touches and got ready for next week.
Their fans, dressed in orange and loud as they’ve been in the five-year history of a stadium many thought was too cushy and comfortable for raucousness, chanted, ``Let’s Go Pittsburgh,″ hoping a Steelers win Sunday will bring their team back for another game.
If Indy wins, though, the Broncos will return to the site of their playoff demise the last two seasons, by a combined score of 90-34.
After last season’s loss, a 49-24 embarrassment, Denver coach Mike Shanahan insisted the Broncos weren’t too far away from being Super Bowl contenders. Lots of people snickered. Very few are snickering now, especially not the Patriots.